Have the WORMS been banished?

Within the latest update of Photoshop, Lightroom and Camera RAW, Adobe have introduced a new function which is aimed at addressing the issues which many, me among them, have with way the current raw converter deals with files from the X-Trans sensor, in my case with my Fuji X-T2 and X-T3.

This new addition to the Adobe box of tricks is ‘Enhance Details’. On preliminary inspection of the various pieces of software you’d be forgiven for not knowing that this additional function was available. Okay, the splash screen when you first open the updated versions tells you it's a new addition, but not where they’ve hidden it. In actual fact, within Lightroom it is in the menu under Photo/Enhance Details (or Ctrl+Alt+I). For Photoshop, or more precisely Camera RAW, it can be found in the drop down menu (signified by three small horizontal lines) within the filmstrip.

Great, now I know where it is but what does it do and whatever it does, is it any good or worth using?

For some time now there have been many reports of Adobe’s RAW converter not being the most efficient at producing results from Fuji’s X-Trans sensor, with other software being recommended as better alternatives, such as Capture One and Iridient Developer. I have to say I have tried trial versions of these two and although I would say I could see a difference in the output, after further inspection I felt that all I was seeing was a sharpened version (not a sharper version) of what I already had though Adobe. Having then added sharpening to my Adobe RAW converted files in Lightroom I saw no difference between the various results, couldn’t tell what else these other software were bringing to the party and went back to using old faithful.

Having come from using Nikon equipment, which often brought a smile to my face seeing the detail within the NEF files, my change of allegiance to Fuji was a somewhat disappointing and slightly upsetting time. I thought I’d made such a major mistake. On download of my first Fuji files, using what at the time was the X-T2, my first impression on magnifying the file to 100% was shock. No longer did I see the same level of detail I had been used to with my Nikon. In fact what I was seeing was this weird, blurry, painterly-like quality to some of the fine detail. Subsequent internet searching revealed this to be a common impression and one which was often described as seeing ‘worms’ when studying the files at such close quarters. In reality at ‘normal’ print sizes these supposed deficiencies cannot be seen, are in no way noticeable in print and I challenge anyone to be able to definitively tell which is which in a side by side comparison. But I knew. I could see that the foundation of the data I was using was not the same as I had before. I thought that I was using something inferior to what I had before. Now that may be the case in absolute terms. Goodness knows many of us, me included, have chased this goal of absolute quality (within our given budgets of course), which means there are many happy retailers out there as kit after kit is swapped in the achievement of the unattainable.

Get past that, look at the quality of your output and you eventually realise that it really isn’t as vital a part of the process as you think it is, depending on what your market is I suppose. All the prints which have come from files from the Fuji are absolutely great. I normally print no bigger than A2 and the quality is first class but I have printed larger and still have seen no issues. To the viewer there is no difference and that is the key. It takes some getting over, ignoring what you can clearly see on the computer screen, and that little bit of doubt occasionally nags at me but if I just get on with enjoying taking the photos and producing the results everything is fine.

Anyway, back to the point of this post. Adobe has now tried to address this situation so, after selecting an image, in LR or Camera RAW, I selected Enhance Details, let the script run and looked at the results. Going through this process does take longer. The result is outputted as a DNG file and, if your computer isn’t up to it, can take some time. To date I’ve only looked at the results using one photo, a recent one taken at Kishorn on the west coast of Scotland, looking across the Loch to the oil rig Ocean Greatwhite berthed there. All the comparisons here are done with no post processing other than leaving the default Lightroom sharpening on and then exporting as jpegs.

Oil rig being prepared for service at Kishorn

The RAW converter process has to reconstruct the red, green and blue pixels into a full colour photo, called demosaicing. X-Trans filters record a single red, green or blue light intensity at each pixel. The RAW processor must then interpolate, ‘guess’, what colour pixel should actually be in the picture based on neighbouring values. Apparently in areas of texture, fine detail, patterns etc. the results to date have been less than optimal. Adobe now claims a 30% improvement in resolution and reproduction of colour using Enhance Details.

So could I see any difference? Having compared the files and for this exercise cropped to 200%, the simple answer is yes. The results are definitely better if you are inspecting the files at close quarters, at 200% or even 100% magnification. Where there was once the obvious ‘worm’ effect it is very much reduced. There is now an apparent increase in detail in those areas of concern. I must admit, my first impression was weirdly that the Enhanced Detail file was softer, but on closer inspection it is clear this is not the case. Magnifying right in to the writing on the rig itself I could easily see the extra definition. When I compared the two files side by side the standard RAW file had a vagueness about it. I could read the writing, no problem, but when I looked at the DNG file it was obvious that the edges were better defined making the lettering clearer. The smeary, blurry appearance is far far less.

200% Magnification

The crop below shows the 'worm' like effect clearly in the rock structure but once again in the enhanced version there is a degree of improved clarity and definition.

200% Magnification

Lastly this crop shows the difference in the areas of single colour, ie the sky. Though it may not be the easiest to see in this web image there is a smoother quality to the area of sky, with much less pronounced worm-like artifacts.

200% Magnification

So in conclusion, has the worm turned? Is it banished for good? Well, if your computer is up for it and you want the best quality file output then go for it. The worms are still there but nowhere near as obvious. Will anyone see the difference between what you did before and if you use this function? Unlikely. The fine detail is absolutely better. In theory you have less pre-print sharpening to do as a result. In the end though, to the viewer in the gallery or the customer with your photograph on their wall, it will not be the subject highest on the discussion list.

Whether you utilise this new function or not the Fuji camera is still a good camera and a joy to use. The functionailty you get with a mirroless camera is excellent and the printed output is more than up to the task.

Will I use it? Maybe occasionally but perhaps only because I get obsessed about having the best foundations to work on, the best quality file I can use to process. The casual observer may never see the difference, but I will know….

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